The Nuggets have come out of the All-Star break with a 2-0 surge, and the two teams they defeated are neck-and-neck with them for a playoff spot. But the two could-be playoff teams the Nuggets have defeated have a combined record of 39-35, they are mediocre squads. Already 0-2 versus the Spurs this season, Gregg Popovich may just have another surprise in store for George Karl's squad Sunday evening ... the return of Manu Ginobili?
Denver: 20-17 (10-9 on the road)
Streak: Won 2
San Antonio: 25-11 (14-2 at home)
Streak: Won 1
Denver: Danilo Gallinari (left ankle sprain) is out. Nene (left calf strain) is questionable. Rudy Fernandez (lower back strain) is a game time decision. Timofey Mozgov (left ankle sprain) is day-to-day.
San Antonio: Manu Ginobili (oblique) is day-to-day.
Television: Altitude / ESPN
Season Series: 2-0, San Antonio.
Opposition's Take: Pounding the Rock
Why let Ginobili return to action against the then 4-29 and now 4-30 Charlotte Bobcats? Sure, the Spurs were playing at home, but why not save Manu for when he's more needed ... against the 20-17 Nuggets tomorrow night. Have to hand it to Popovich for holding off on playing his lethal lefty, for one more game.
Now, if Ginobili doesn't return to action tonight, I'm going to look like the idiot we all trust that I am already ... no worries there.
Since returning to action, the Nuggets have been taking care of the little things. Denver has out-rebounded their opponents 103-71 (54-36 vs. Blazers and 49-35 vs. Rockets) and they have dominated on the offensive glass with 21 o-boards versus the Blazers and 19 more against the Rockets. Kenneth Faried, Kosta Koufos, and Timofey Mozgov have been the main cogs in the rebounding department, but even the guards are helping out - great team effort.
The Nuggets are sharing the ball, like they did early in the season, racking up 26 assists against Portland and 27 more in Houston. Ty Lawson has been leading the way with 9 assists against Portland and 15 against Houston. When the Nuggets are sharing the ball and taking care of the ball (12 turnovers vs. Blazers and only 6 turnovers vs. the Rockets), they are hard to beat and optimizing the team play that Karl wants out of his squad.
The Nuggets haven't been killing it behind the three-point line, making just 14-43 of their attempts or 32.5% and they are still giving up a lot of open looks to their opponents from deep. Allowing the Spurs free range from beyond the arc is not a good idea, as the Nuggets have already found out. In the Feb. 23rd loss to the Spurs, just before the break, the Nuggets allowed Richard Jefferson and Company to connect on 13-27 shots from deep (48.1%).
The Blazers went 9-24 from deep and the Rockets 10-29 ... the Spurs will get their attempts, but the Nuggets defensive rotations have to continue to show improvement, which they have. And speaking of showing improvement, how about Lawson, Faried, Koufos, and Arron Afflalo?
Lawson has been running the show with 18 points and 9 assists vs. the Blazers and 22 points, 15 assists, and 7 rebounds against the Rockets. Sure, Jamal Crawford isn't known for his defense and Raymond Felton might not be quick enough this season to stay with him, but Lawson's jump shooting was crucial in that first win out of the break and his aggression was what set the tempo for the Nuggets offense in Houston. Tony Parker will be a tough cover, but Lawson can have his way offensively and there are no real shot blockers down in San Antonio to prevent him from getting all the way to the rim. And at the rim is where Lawson can either score or set up his teammates.
Faried's rebounding efforts have been key for the Nuggets and his energy and production will be big against DeJuan Blair. Blair ate up the Nuggets in their last game with 28 points and 12 rebounds (4 offensive). Faried will have to do a much better job keeping the Spurs best rebounder out of the paint.
Koufos has been playing well, as NugzD pointed out in his column, and has been refreshingly aggressive on defense and in the paint on offense. Meanwhile, Afflalo's second-half against Houston was much needed, as Jeff Morton pointed out he scored 16 of his 17 points in the second half. More confidence boosting is exactly what Koufos and Afflalo need and they will play big roles against the Spurs.
Can the Nuggets make it three in a row and get a win over the No. 2 team out West in their final regular season match-up? We'll find out Sunday night ...
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